Wednesday, September 7, 2022

Exceptional Value Water Quality Designation, State Forest Land, River Honors Were Not Enough To Protect Loyalsock Creek From Natural Gas Drilling & Pipelines In Lycoming County

[Editor’s Note: This is the story of the four-year struggle by the Friends of the 'Sock to save the Loyalsock Creek, their community and state forest land in Gamble and Plunketts Creek Townships, Lycoming County from the environmental, health and life impacts of a major natural gas infrastructure project that is now industrializing the watershed. 

[The fact Loyalsock Creek is classified by DEP as an exceptional value stream-- the best water quality that must be protected with no degradation; and was designated the 2018 Pennsylvania River of the Year by DCNR and called a “timeless treasure” in the middle of this fight, was not enough to protect the watershed.

[After an unsuccessful effort by citizens and all three Lycoming Commissioners to find a better way, Pennsylvania General Energy is now building a natural gas gathering pipeline system and freshwater supply pipelines to connect the development of three shale gas leased tracts in Loyalsock State Forest that is expected to add up to 80 additional shale gas wells.

[The pipelines, now approved by DEP and DCNR, will connect two leased tracts of state forest land on a plateau on the north side of the Loyalsock Creek, run about a mile down steep hillsides, under the Loyalsock Creek and State Route 87, and 1.5 miles up steep slopes up to a third leased tract on state forest land on the south side of the Creek. 

[The freshwater pipeline will be constructed aboveground.  PGE will attempt to use new underground “micro-tunneling” technology for the natural gas pipeline, down steep slopes on both sides the Creek.

[Also included is a description of a significant failure of erosion and sedimentation controls at the construction site during a rain storm on September 5, 2022.

[The story ends with Friends of the ‘Sock outlining five critical issues they believe need to be addressed to prevent this kind of industrialization in other watersheds across Pennsylvania.

[Click Here to watch a video about the project.

[The FracTracker Alliance did a major project in the Loyalsock Watershed to document Shale Gas Development and impacts.  Read more here.

[This article first appeared on the Keep It Wild PA website.]


Despite unanimous opposition expressed by Lycoming County Commissioners after visiting neighborhoods on both sides of the Loyalsock Creek last July, a massive gas industry project in the Loyalsock Valley is now proceeding in two townships. 

Commissioners visited the proposed construction sites along Route 87 (Plunketts Creek Township) and Butternut Grove Road (Gamble Township) and agreed that Pennsylvania General Energy’s planned fracked gas infrastructure project would impact Lycoming County communities, visitors, and the creek. 

The unsuccessful efforts to avert or mitigate this industrialization underscore critical issues affecting citizens statewide.

In July 2021, with urgent, bipartisan concern, the Commissioners wrote to Governor Wolf and DCNR Secretary Cindy Adams-Dunn: 

“It is important to note that the industry previously accepted the challenges of removing gas from the wellheads when they leased these COP (Commonwealth of PA) tracts on separate mountain plateaus. 

“Residents have not attempted to stop PGE from drilling. Rather, their objections are based on the fact that post-lease land purchases in two rural/residential neighborhoods will have a direct impact on homeowners’ health, safety, and quality of life. 

“After viewing the sites, we cannot help but agree….Redirecting gas transport to the north and south, instead of crossing the creek and two mountain faces, would avoid the need for this disruption of our exceptional valley.” 

Exceptional Valley, Exceptional Waterway

A state-designated Exceptional Value (EV) waterway, the Loyalsock Creek flows 64 miles through the beautiful Endless Mountain region of PA to meet the Susquehanna River near Williamsport. 

The Loyalsock Creek and Valley are beloved far and wide for swimming, fishing, paddling, tubing, the Loyalsock Trail, hiking, birding, and hunting. Community members and others have long expressed concerns to local and state officials about industrializing private and state land in this grand and environmentally sensitive area. 

The creek’s natural beauty draws some to visit and others to stay, despite the challenges of living in a narrow river valley. 

Some of the last easily accessible, vast forested land in northeastern U.S. surrounds Loyalsock Creek, Pennsylvania’s 2018 River of the Year. 

2018 was the same year neighbors first learned that Pennsylvania General Energy LLC (PGE) planned a project in the Loyalsock Creek Valley, very close to their homes. 

Close to Homes, Class 1 Pipeline Will Connect Separate Tracts for Massive Valley Build-Out 

PGE and DCNR are connecting three separately leased, ecologically sensitive State Forest tracts via a massive infrastructure project that is running right through residential neighborhoods in two townships, within feet of people’s homes. PGE and DCNR have placed some of those neighbors within the Potential Impact Radius (PIR). 

PGE’s pipeline across the Loyalsock Creek is a Class 1, 16-24 inch (?), high-pressure, gas gathering pipeline. (DEP has failed to respond the residents’ 6-month-long series of requests for a confirmation of the pipeline diameter, originally listed at 12” in the leases.) 

Regardless of the size, neither FERC, PUC, nor PHMSA regulate gathering systems. 

This high-pressure pipeline will be built to carry fracked gas from rim-to-rim across the Loyalsock Creek, cutting into the state forest and residents’ yards. PGE is presently open-trenching the creek to bury a permanent utility corridor for both fracked gas and water lines. 

At the construction site on PA Route 87, approximately 4 miles north of the Rt 973 bridge, PGE is building a pumping station and is permitted to withdraw up to two million gallons per day from the creek. 

This is the fourth gas industry surface water withdrawal on Loyalsock Creek approved by the Susquehanna River Basin Commission (SRBC), amounting to billions of gallons permanently removed from this EV trout stream. 

Local residents, including a former U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Ph.D. Aquatic Biologist, are concerned about continuing pressure on, and damage to, the Loyalsock Creek itself as well as feeder streams and private drinking water wells.  

The water will be pumped to the adjacent mountaintops for a planned build-out of approximately 80 fracked gas wells in the Loyalsock Creek valley on publicly-owned state forest and game lands on Jacoby and Cove Mountains and the Allegheny Ridge. 

According to documents obtained by the residents’ legal counsel, PGE plans almost double the number of pads and well sites that DCNR admitted to concerned citizens at a meeting in October 2016.  

Now under construction, PGE and DCNR’s project also includes an underground pumping station, horizontal directional drilling (HDD) under PA Route 87, access roads on both sides of the highway, staging areas, clear cutting a wide swath of the riparian buffer, a large gravel pad, parking spaces, and secondary pumping station barely 300 feet away from residents’ homes in the ironically named “neighborhood preservation” zone. 

On the Gamble Township side, PGE is accessing its project via a narrow, private lane shared with 2 families. 

The dirt lane bisects a homestead backyard with young children and pets, despite pleas (and broken promises) to use other routes to access the former residential property at the end of the lane. 

PGE conducted a survey of the lane and will decide if the drilling company wants to “improve” their access by widening the lane to extend just feet from residents’ homes. 

In any case, the lane will bring in heavy equipment, pipe, rigs, vehicles, roll-off dumpsters, porta potties, materials and personnel for open trenching the creek and installing the permanent underground utility corridor across the ‘Sock. 

Subsequently, the private lane will be used for access required to extend the fracked gas gathering pipeline up the mountainside. The job foreman recently admitted to the mother with young children that the lane would be used by “hundreds of heavy trucks.”

Steep Slopes and Frequent Flooding Increase Risks

“We remain concerned,” the [Lycoming County] Commissioners said, “about the safety and efficacy of this project in a valley that has experienced increased severe flooding and main artery road closings due to floods and mud slides. Industrialization is not in alignment with the severe weather events experienced in the valley or with the county's long-range plan.” 

The Loyalsock Valley’s steep, landslide-prone slopes cannot withstand severe weather events such as the 2016 Wallis Run flash flood and landslide that exposed and ruptured an active, underground Sunoco pipeline, spilling thousands of gallons of gasoline directly into the Loyalsock Creek. 

(In 2018, a pipeline in Beaver County, PA failed in similar steep slope conditions after only a week of active use, with catastrophic consequences.)  [Read more here.]

That same summer, heavy flooding and landslides in the valley closed roads and caused DCNR to reschedule meetings with residents three times, finally achieving the public meeting in November. 

However, via a Right to Know (RTK) filing, residents obtained documents showing DCNR already gave PGE preliminary approval for the project months before that.

DCNR has said PGE will be required to spare the viewscape by boring under the forest to install the gas pipeline, but also admitted to residents that micro-tunneling technology has not yet been tested in Pennsylvania or in the site’s geologic conditions, foisting the consequences of failure onto this exceptional valley and its residents. 

DCNR likewise refused to provide residents with a written pledge that, should the technology fail, PGE will not be allowed to clear-cut the steep forested slopes to run pipelines up both mountain faces. 

A possible “Plan B” clear-cut for the high-pressure gas pipeline remains an open question. 

And, while DCNR is willing to attempt to spare the trees, the agency refuses to change truck routes to spare severely-impacted residents. 

Residents have consistently been given the impression that DCNR is willing to maximize accommodations for the industry. 

Community Efforts Over More than Four Years

Residents spent years trying to avoid or mitigate this massive impact on the forest, creek, and neighborhood preservation zone in which it will be built. 

From 2014 into 2017, they worked in Plunketts Creek Township to put good zoning protections in place for residents. 

But in 2018, PGE took full advantage of a Plunketts Creek Township “typo” or “editing blunder” that removed zoning protections in the final ordinance. 

PGE purchased 100 acres of then-residential property, intending to connect it with leased state forest tracts and enabling PGE’s plan to site water and fracked gas pipelines. 

Later, in part fearing legal action by PGE, the township turned over zoning control to the County, which allows pipelines in all zoning districts.

After PGE bought the properties, neighbors formed the Friends of the ‘Sock (FOTS), hired an environmental attorney, wrote letters, petitioned for a public meeting, drove to Harrisburg to meet privately with DCNR, and testified at every conceivable opportunity. 

Despite FOTS’ good faith communications with DCNR, DEP, the PA Attorney General, PA Auditor General, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, state representatives, SRBC [Susquehanna River Basin Commission], township supervisors and PGE’s president, CEO, and top lawyer, no real effort to address community concerns has been made. 

The Governor [Wolf] did not respond to letters from Pennsylvania citizens or to a formal request for a meeting made through staff channels, and has fought the release of records to residents. 

Commissioners’ Concerns Heard, But Unheeded

Lycoming County’s top three elected officials did speak up in a bipartisan, unanimous expression of concern-- 

“As Commissioners, we must balance the county's desire to create a positive business climate with our responsibility to protect the residents' safety, property values, and right to peace, tranquility, and the natural aesthetics. We know the needs of this county and its people. There are times when we realize that decisions made by those at the state level, who do not see the situation through a local lens, are not in Lycoming County's long-term best interest.”   

DCNR did not admit, either to residents or to the Commissioners, that agency decision makers had already signed amended leases with PGE. Amended leases now offer fewer protections to citizens and include granting the Commonwealth the right to waive penalties for future PGE lease violations on public lands. 

Despite the Commissioners’ plea, state agencies proceeded in approving the site build- out, which is integral to the big picture that PGE and DCNR have for this exceptional valley. 

That master plan for fracked gas extraction, compression, and transport has never been fully disclosed, despite requests. 

The few pertinent documents that residents obtained from records requests bode ill for the ecological fragility of vernal pools and other resources integral to the places that are a part of this community’s fabric and residents’ lives.  

During DCNR’s last meeting with residents in March 2021, Deputy Secretary Norbeck asked neighbors to submit the rest of their questions and concerns in writing. 

DCNR never responded to the detailed list neighbors sent in April 2021, and instead signed amended leases with PGE in July 2021, without telling residents. 

These leases coincided with PGE transferring its Loyalsock Creek properties to DCNR, while enabling PGE to develop this site in our community. 

DCNR took title to PGE’s properties in September 2021, after telling residents for years that the agency could not address the impacts of PGE’s proposed project on private land. 

Despite now owning the land, including newly-leased acreage, DCNR still continues to allow PGE’s project to move ahead contrary to DCNR’s constitutional obligations to residents and this exceptional valley.  

Lessons Learned, Critical Issues for Others

Massive industrialization is now underway and can be seen from Rt 87. 

A coffer dam has been constructed on the Loyalsock Creek and hundreds of trees have been cut in the state-owned forest and along the riparian buffer. 

One neighbor, a registered nurse living beside the project, said the sound is “like bones shattering.” 

[Note: A rain event on September 5, 2022 caused a significant failure of erosion and sedimentation controls at the construction site and a sediment pollution plume for a mile downstream on the Loyalsock Creek.  Both DEP and DCNR were notified of these pollution events.]

Beyond their urgent health concerns for the forest, the stream, their own families and their community, Friends of the ‘Sock now recognize five critical issues that apply here and across the state wherever fracked gas development is occurring-- 

-- Pennsylvania lacks adequate regulation and oversight of fracked gas gathering pipelines.

-- Inherent conflicts exist between government interests and PA residents’ property rights, leading to government decisions that stand in opposition to the rights of citizens under Article 1, Section 27 of the PA Constitution.

-- Faced with the challenge of regulating the far-reaching impacts of the shale gas industry while simultaneously coping with ongoing budget cuts, state agencies choose to collude with or prioritize industry, allowing corporate goals to take precedent over the health and safety of citizens and protection of the environment.

-- Piecemeal permitting and lack of meaningful public participation enables corporations and government entities to conceal the scope and intent of massive industrialization projects.

-- For-profit corporate interests outrank the legal rights of residents, which results in privatizing profits (even from public lands) and socializing the often-devastating costs.  

A prime example of this policy is the acid mine drainage from abandoned coal mines that is currently costing millions upon millions of taxpayer dollars to remediate. 

More than one trillion gallons of acid mine water can be found in abandoned coal mines in Pennsylvania and now seeping into rivers and streams. 

What does the future hold for drinking water aquifers once the cement begins to fail on thousands of fracked gas well bores cutting through these fresh water aquifers? The answers don’t exist nor are the questions even being asked by legislators or regulatory agencies.  

The clear message this project and others like it send to all citizens of PA: our inherent rights and our very lives and well-being are sacrificed to industrial interests, whether on public land that belongs to us as citizens of the Commonwealth, or at our homes where we have invested our money, care, time, and love. 

This is not the “of the people, by the people, for the people” democracy that Lincoln proclaimed America to be. 

Most importantly, this is not adherence to the PA Constitution as the law of the land. 

Our rights to “clean air, pure water, and to the preservation of the natural, scenic, historic and esthetic values of the environment” are being stripped away. 

Evidence of a “corporations first” America can be seen in the Loyalsock Valley and across the state. 

The Constitution mandates that the state’s public lands are a trust and … “As trustee of these resources, the Commonwealth shall conserve and maintain them for the benefit of all the people.”  

Evidence of that trustee responsibility in the Loyalsock Valley is sorely lacking. 

The invasion of this neighborhood preservation zone continues apace. 

Click Here to watch a video about the project.

For more information, visit the Keep It Wild PA website.  This website will include future updates on the project as it is being constructed.  You can also sign up for updates by email at the website.

Questions should be directed to Barb Jarmoska, 570-772-3742,

(Photos: Top- Pipeline crossing constructions begins with clearing work area; coffer dam to allow dewatering of half of Loyalsock Creek crossing;  Bottom- construction occurring very close to homes; coffer dam severely damaged by flood water from a rain event on September 5, 2022 that resulted in the failure of erosion and sedimentation controls and a sediment pollution plume for a mile downstream.)

Resource Links:

-- FracTracker Alliance: Loyalsock Watershed Project Documenting Shale Gas Development

-- DCNR: Shale Gas Infrastructure Map/ Shale Gas Monitoring Update 2022

Related Articles - Loyalsock Drilling, Early History:

-- 12,000 Want Hearings, Public Comment On Potential For Loyalsock State Forest Drilling  [2013] 

-- Lawmakers, Environmental Groups Urge Protection Of Loyalsock Forest From Drilling [2014]

-- Environmental Coalition Urges Gov. Wolf To Prevent Drilling In Loyalsock State Forest  [2015]

-- DCNR Advisory Council Urges Strong Protection Of Loyalsock State Forest From Drilling  [2015]

Related Article This Week:

-- House Environmental Committee To Hold Sept. 20 ‘Wellhead To Stovetop’ Hearing On Natural Gas In PA; Will They Mention $70 Million In Pipeline Penalties Assessed So Far?  [PaEN]

-- Natural Gas, Hazardous Liquids Pipelines Are NOT Required To Carry Insurance Or Show They Can Pay For Damages If They Explode, Leak Or Kill Someone  [PaEN]

-- Center For Coalfield Justice Hosts Oct. 5 Public Meeting On PA Health Studies Of Natural Gas Development In Southwest PA  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Companies Accelerating Pace Of Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them Threatening To Put PA’s Taxpayer-Funded Well Plugging Program Even Further Behind  [PaEN]

Related Articles - Oil & Gas Development:

-- Senate Budget Hearings: PA’s Experience With New Pipeline Construction Shows State Laws Not Strong Enough To Prevent Environmental Damage, Protect Public Safety

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Companies Accelerating Pace Of Abandoning Wells Without Plugging Them Threatening To Put PA’s Taxpayer-Funded Well Plugging Program Even Further Behind  [9.6.22]

-- Only 15 Out Of 256 Conventional Oil & Gas Operators Who Abandoned Wells Without Plugging Them Were Fined By DEP; Small Penalties No Deterrent To Future Abandonments  [PaEN]

-- Bay Journal: New Abandoned Wells - More Concerns Emerge Over Pennsylvania’s Conventional Oil & Gas Wells - By Ad Crable, Chesapeake Bay Journal  [8.25.22]

-- Creating New Brownfields: Oil & Gas Well Drillers Notified DEP They Are Cleaning Up Soil & Water Contaminated With Chemicals Harmful To Human Health, Aquatic Life At 272 Locations In PA  [PaEN]

-- New Penn State Study Finds Runoff From Conventional Oil & Gas Wastewater Dumped On Unpaved Roads Contains Pollutants That Exceed Human-Health, Environmental Standards  [5.27.22]

-- Conventional Oil & Gas Drillers Reported Spreading 977,671 Gallons Of Untreated Drilling Wastewater On PA Roads In 2021  [PaEN]

-- Conventional Oil & Natural Gas Drilling: An Industrial Machine Moving Across The PA Countryside Leaving Behind Big Liabilities & Spreading Pollution Everywhere It Goes  [PaEN]

-- Senate Hearing: Body Of Evidence Is 'Large, Growing,’ ‘Consistent’ And 'Compelling' That Shale Gas Development Is Having A Negative Impact On Public Health; PA Must Act  [PaEN]

-- Environmental Health Project: PA’s Natural Gas Boom - What Went Wrong? Why Does It Matter?  What Can We Do Better To Protect Public Health?  [PaEN]

-- U.S. Dept. Of Interior Awards PA $25 Million In Conventional Oil & Gas Well Plugging Funding From Federal Bipartisan Infrastructure Law [PaEN]

-- DEP: Wastes Generated By The New Conventional Oil & Gas Well Plugging Program Will NOT Be Exempt From Hazardous Waste Regulations, Unlike Wastes From Active Wells  [PaEN]

PA Environment Digest:

-- All Recent Articles Posted On Conventional Oil & Gas Drilling

[Posted: September 7, 2022]  PA Environment Digest

No comments :

Post a Comment

Subscribe To Receive Updates:

Enter your email address:

Delivered by FeedBurner